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Published Apr 27, 2022

vinyl stencils

I use paper stencils with underglaze a lot in my work. With a little water, the stencils stick to greenware beautifully providing a nice resist. But it is a bit trickier on bisqueware. The paper doesn't stick to the dry surface very well.

Jay Jensen has a great solution to this. He uses adhesive vinyl stencils on his bisque and then glazes over them, creating lovely patterns. In today's post, an excerpt from our book Glazing Techniques, Jay shares his technique.- Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor

The flat planes of the forms that I build create the perfect space to fill with pattern and design. Fired red earthenware has a beautiful color, which can also be a perfect backdrop for the glaze pattern.

My surface patterns are derived from sources such as the Modernist design movement, architecture, machines, and even sheet-metal design. My surfaces complement and contrast these references in congruent and sometimes incongruent ways. They are often inspired by textile and wallpaper designs from the early 20th century or even shower curtains and wrapping paper from the 21st century. I like the way they fill the open surfaces of my pottery and create visual interest while creating curiosity for the viewer.

I use Adobe Illustrator to design the patterns in silhouette. Again, a computer isn’t necessary to make a resist pattern; you can make similar stencils with an X-Acto knife and clear contact paper. After I’ve chosen a design, I send them to a sign shop to have them cut out of vinyl. I find that smaller shops welcome my business and are willing to work with my smaller orders. I get my vinyl cut in 24×24-inch sheets.

Applying the Surface Pattern

Start by adhering a layer of clear contact paper (the same stuff you buy for lining cabinets and drawers) to the vinyl patterns. The clear contact paper is necessary to keep the design intact. If you peel the backing off without it, it’s impossible to put the sticker on the pot. Also if the design has parts that are “floating,” the clear contact paper layer keeps the design together. Cut new templates (one each for the spout, funnel, and body) from the combined sheets of vinyl/contact paper using the templates originally used to make the ewer parts (figure 1).


The next step requires some practice and trial and error. Peel off the backing from the contact paper to reveal the sticky adhesive, then adhere it to the pot and use a hair dryer to smooth out any wrinkles and help it conform to the surface of the bisque (figure 2). Now carefully remove only the clear contact paper (figure 3). Next, decide whether you want to remove the negative or positive pieces of the design (figure 4). I try to mix it up on my work since my designs work well both ways. Now you’re ready to glaze.

vinyl stencils


Glazing can be done by dipping or brushing as well as adding slip, this depends on your own working preferences. I like use a brush for my low-fire glaze applications, this way I only need to mix very small quantities of glazes. Brushing glaze tends to work better for many low-fire glazes that have a little more forgiveness, while most high- and mid-fire glazes require a very even coating of glaze and dipping is preferred. Once the glaze is dry, use the tip of an X-Acto knife to gently lift off the remaining vinyl pieces (figure 5)

Since glazing in this manner exposes the bare clay, it’s important that the clay have a nice fired color and surface on its own. I use a glaze recipe that contains a high-percentage of lithium and fumes onto the raw clay making the clay an even richer dark color.

**First published in 2015.